Thursday, May 16, 2013

Original Skin, by David Mark

blue rider press/Penguin, 2013
427 pp

(my copy from the publisher -- thank you!)

[reposted at the crime segments page of my reading journal ]

Last November when I read David Mark's crime fiction book called  The Dark Winter , I was surprised at how very good it was for a first novel. Now, with  Original Skin, Mark has kicked things up a few notches to create an even better second series installment, set in the Hull, West Yorkshire area of England.

 His protagonist, Aector McAvoy, is a  member of the specialized squad known as the Serious and Organized Crime Unit, under the direction of McAvoy's boss Trish Pharaoh.  The unit is currently under fire from the Humberside Police Authority because of the rise of violent crime statistics, not helped much by the crimes of a gang viciously attacking and torturing smaller growers as a means of taking over their farms and intimidating them. After doing his best to convince the Police Authority committee members that the unit is working hard to solve the case, McAvoy decompresses by  taking a walk along the towpath by the Humber, where a) he sees two people talking that may be committee members, and b) in the water among the litter of supermarket carts, bottles, mattress springs etc., he finds a cell phone and picks it up. Curious, he picks it up, thinking he might be able to fix it.  What he finds on the phone starts another investigation rolling, one that leads to a very clever and rather nasty killer whose first crime, as it turns out,  was written off as a suicide. If what I've written so far doesn't spark your interest (although for serious crime readers it should whet some measure of curiosity), and you're more of a Fifty Shades of Gray type person, you can add  into the mix a young woman with a unique tattoo who belongs to the world of swinging sex parties, sexual submission  and sex for thrills with people she's only met online. 

Keeping the action up over 427 pages in any novel of crime fiction is a tough job, but the author does not disappoint.   With his excellent characterizations, a well-plotted and rather twisty core murder mystery and his look at how the local area is primed for "high crime --  for example, the decline of local industry, lack of investment, lack of "impetus on education," and the geographical "sense of isolation,"  -- all working together harmoniously, the 400+ pages fly by in no time.  My own small niggle here is the amount of time spent with Aector's home life, but that's a personal issue, because I'm more about the crime, less about crying babies keeping both parents awake over several nights. It's all about character development, but I'm an impatient reader.

 While McAvoy is a gentle giant of a policeman and a family man, the author takes him down some very dark paths in this book, so I'd recommend it to fans of more darkly-oriented police procedurals.  While cozy readers may find this book a bit overwhelming, readers who enjoy more serious crime will definitely be glued.  Do not, however, start the series with this novel, but instead with Dark Winter, as things in Original Skin build from the first book.  Overall -- much better than the first book and an intriguing read any serious crime reader will want to read. 

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